Thank you so much for your blog, which I’ve been reading for several years now. I know this is a pretty low-stakes question, but I need scripts, and I just cannot find a way to respond to this particular situation.
I visit my future-MIL maybe two, three times a year, and have done so for the past four or five years. This involves staying in her house. It’s rough because I’m an introvert and she is very much not, and I struggle to find alone recharge time when she is offended if we don’t spend all our time with her. But that’s another issue. The thing is, she insists I should feel comfortable and wear pajamas around the house. Great! I love pajamas and like to wear classic loose plaid pants, camisoles, etc., when I am relaxing *inside.* Except the following exchange happens literally two or three times every time we stay there:
Her: Time to go to dinner/ drinks/ etc.! [Or if I’m lucky, I get a ten-minute warning. They don’t do specifically timed plans. Also another issue.]
Me: I’ll just change!
Me: Because I’m wearing pajamas.
Her: But why?
Me: Because I can’t wear pajamas outside?
Her: Whyever not?
Me: . . .
Please help. This is not in a place where it is acceptable to wear pajamas outside; I would get stared at. And even if it were socially okay, I am not comfortable with that. I would feel gross getting outside dirt on my inside pajamas. I don’t take forever to get ready, I just spend five to ten minutes changing my clothes.
I also cannot comprehend why she feels the need to repeat this conversation over and over. Is this her way of telling me that I actually should not wear pajamas in her house? Am I being subtly called out for not being able to accurately predict when it’s time to leave? Can I please have scripts?
– At a Loss
(feminine pronouns, and my fiancé is male, if that’s relevant)
Hi there, I could use a real low-stakes question today, so, thank you!
Here’s my small In-Laws Comedy Of Manners from a recent visit, for your enjoyment. I keep forgetting that in Texas/my in-laws’ family culture “I guess it’s time to head out, thanks so much for having us” means “Let’s chat for at least another 30 minutes.” More than once last month I found myself out by the car, with shoes and coat on and all my stuff in hand, having given every single person at the gathering a hug and a heartfelt individual goodbye (I promise), wondering “What now? Do I wait? Mr. Awkward has the car keys, though. Do I go back in? How long do I wait? Do they think I’m rude? If I go back in, will I have to say hello and then goodbye to everyone again? I guess I’ll just wait? Shit, it’s cold.” By about the 6th day out of 7, I figured out that I should not to actually leave the house until Mr. Awkward left the house. I will probably forget this and have to re-learn it next time I’m there.
Anyway, you’re a grown-ass woman who does not need permission from anyone to change clothes if you want to, so here’s your new script for “Time to head to dinner!”:
Current You: “I’ll just go change!”
Future You: “Great!” + get up and move quickly toward the room where you will change. Don’t inform them of what you’re doing, just do it.
If you absolutely can’t avoid a discussion of some kind:
Future MIL: “Where are you going? Why?”
Future You: “I need a sec to get ready. ” “Because I want to!” “I need to stop by the bathroom for a minute.”
Use a cheerful tone and always be in motion. No time to talk! You’ve got to hurry up and get changed! You’re a grown-ass woman who wants to change clothes and that’s a good enough reason! There is a freedom in being an adult and figuring out that you don’t have to fix or feel any kind of way about an awkward exchange.
There’s a lot of other stuff you could try to work this out with your mom. I’ll save all y’all some commenting time and list it:
- Grabbing your clothes and changing in the bathroom. It’s normal to use the bathroom before you leave someplace. You were just using the bathroom!
- Not wearing pajamas inside in the first place if you sense there are plans afoot. “Oh thanks but I’m more comfortable like this.” Exist in a state of readiness at all times! CONSTANT VIGILANCE!
- Checking in with her and fiancé about the schedule for the day ahead of time. “Any plans later I should know about?”
- Reminding them respectfully that you don’t like wearing loungewear outside and that you need more minute warning if you’re going to leave the house. (It’s been 4-5 years, this should not be a surprise. To anyone.)
- Asking your fiancé to explain, again, that you just like changing to street clothes and tell her to stop being so weird.
- Own it as a personal quirk, like “Sorry, I’m just weird like that, thanks for understanding.”
- Have your own transportation and tell ’em you’ll meet ’em there.
- Resist the unplanned outings altogether, like, “Hey, I’m not ready and it’s going to take me a minute. Why don’t you all go ahead and enjoy yourselves and I’ll just relax with my book!”
- “Wow you are being pretty weird about this, I didn’t realize putting on a different shirt would freak you out. Still gonna change, though! See you in a sec.”
- + 100 more little scripts and strategems, etc. etc. etc. etc.
If this all sounds like too much work, yes, it is. Do whatever. Have whatever talk you want (or don’t have it). IT DOESN’T MATTER.
Why it doesn’t matter what you do or say: None of this is about you. It’s all about your future MIL and some internal weirdness she has going on that’s not your problem to solve or figure out.
Let me explain:
There’s a strong chance that after you insist on changing your future MIL comments along the lines of “you’re making everyone late” or “I guess we’ll just have to WAIT for you to change” or “Look at Beyoncé here with the costume changes” or “We’re gonna miss the previews and whose fault is that?”
If she does this in addition to the weird interrogations, please trust that is a manifestation of her own anxieties or need for control or whatever you want to call her personal weirdness around this topic. Maybe you changing is making her have a “Wait, does that mean I should change clothes? Is she judging me? Well I’m not changing! People who love me love me as I am“ spiral. Maybe it’s a subtextual message, like “In OUR FAMILY we are COOL and SPONTANEOUS and I’m not sure YOU & your insistence on WAISTBANDS are really fitting in with OUR FAMILY.” Maybe she’s one of those women who interrupts online conversations about skincare and makeup to tell everyone she NEVER! WEARS! MAKEUP! and you changing clothes before you go out is a signifier that she needs to raise your consciousness (by boring you to death about it). Who knows?
Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. It’s literally not your problem. Treat it with the same importance and attention as you would a random cloud floating by on a sunny day. Observe the behavior from a great distance, mentally say “hrmmmmm, how interesting, that thing is happening again” and don’t worry about it any more. You want to change clothes, so, people can either wait or leave without you. It’s okay if someone doesn’t like something you do or if you don’t do it the exact same way they would do it.
I say this as a soon to be 44-year-old adult who was raised by a woman who spent decades asking everyone – me, my dad, my brothers, the dog – “Is (pregnant pause) that…what you’re wearing?” right as we are at the putting-on-coats-to-leave stage of leaving the house. It didn’t matter WTF we were wearing, especially since a) we clearly were already wearing it and b) in the case of my dad she had most likely purchased, laundered, and ironed every item of clothing he had on. What mattered was that Mom was having some kind of anxious feelings about going somewhere or seeing people or how her family’s personal style would reflect on her, so she externalized those feelings onto whoever was around at the moment. In my Goth-Like-The-Prime Minister_of-Spain’s-Teen-Daughters* days, I would inevitably give her the fight she was trying to pick and we’d yell and slam doors. When I was about 35 (and still mostly dressed like the Spanish PM’s daughters now that I think about it), I stopped fighting and instead said “Weird, why would you ask me that? Because I’m not going to change clothes, but it does make me feel crappy and angry at you and not excited to be here with you.”
After that conversation, I-
:looks down at current outfit:
-kept right on wearing minimalist black clothing and comfortable shoes. What changed was that I also tried to have compassion for my Mom’s anxiety while ignoring the annoying behavior, and lo and behold, it stopped.
By “ignoring the behavior” I mean, I literally ignored it:
Mom: “Is THAT what you’re wearing?”
36-38 Year-Old-Me: “You look really nice! Are we taking your car or Dad’s?”
I highly recommend this strategy if you’ve never tried it before. It can take a couple tries but then you can actually see the person think the question and grudgingly decide not say it. Victory! And then with some more time and patience, they often stop even thinking it or asking it in the first place. The pattern gets disrupted and everyone finds a new way to interact. 43-year-old me was just home for a party in December and was told “Well, you look very nice!” on our way out the door. Was I tempted to dramatically faint or ask her to repeat herself? Of course. I’m 43, I’m not dead. Will I take the win, where something that used to really upset me about my relationship with my Mom is not upsetting anymore? Oh yes, with all my heart.
Letter Writer, from now on try saying “Oh, we’re going for drinks? How fun, I’ll be right back.” + change outfits + ignore any subsequent weirdness to the best of your ability. Ask lots of pleasant questions about the place you’re going to. Stare out the window at the clouds and let your partner carry the conversation and run interference for you. If your future mother-in-law escalates the weirdness, attacks you (or her son) and just won’t let it go, take it as confirmation that it was 100% her strange issue all along and your slightly different clothing is not the problem.
Speaking up and advocating for yourself is an important life skill! So is detaching from situations that are about someone else’s projection and internal weirdness. To me, this situation is one for the “lalala I’m not listening” files.
*#ILoveThem #NeverForget #Heroines